The World War Two Memories Project - D-Day

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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII

An Exciting Frustration.

We in 697 L.C.M… Folitlla, a Royal Marines manned Landing Craft Flotilla, had been practising the landing of troops and light mechanised vehicles, together with other less mobile stores, on various beaches locally, from our base on the Beaulieu River, at H.M.S… Cricket, to as far afield as Bracklesham Bay, and The Witterings,…for some weeks past.

We had travelled in our twin-engined craft, sometimes loaded, otherwise not, and we reckoned that we knew these beaches well enough not to get stuck on them even on a falling tide. We had practised estimating the length of approach, so as to drop the kedge anchor from the stern of the carft and then secure it so as to be able to pull ourselves off on a falling tide, after having deposited our craft contents, (the load), on to the beach or as near to it as possible. L.C.V.M..'s were Landing Craft Mechanical, capable of carrying one 30cwt. Truck, or a Bren Carrier, or cargo. The craft was driven by twin petrol engines, mounted side by side.

We had practised in all weathers, fair (mostly!) and foul, so that neither daunted us. We had taken all our kit aboard, then after the exercises returned it to the Nissen huts, all in practise for the Great Day.

Being a sort of 'up-homer' from H.M.S… Cricket, our base at Bursledon, and my home in Gosport, I was able to spend quite a bit of my time at home in the evenings when not on duty. I would leave the following morning, having arisen about 6 am with my Mum, who at that time was working in Priddy's Hard, the local Munitions factory, or to give it it's formal title, The Royal Naval Armament Supply Depot, Priddy's Hard, Gosport.

I used to leave Gosport via Gosport Railway Station, and changing at Fareham, travel to Bursledon, just a few stations along the Southampton line from Fareham.

On each day, I had told my Mum that I would or would not return the following evening, depending on my duty requirements back at H.M.S….Cricket.

In those days anyone in uniform could be picked up and given a lift almost at will, by a variety of vehicles, lorries, vans, even buses etc. I even remember, on one occasion, having 'marched' out of H.M.S…Cricket, and on reaching the main road, I opted to try my luck on the road, rather than wait for a train, and I thus found myself travelling in a real American Jeep towards Fareham, from where I caught the bus to Gosport! It was so strange to hear the accents, which until then, we had only heard in the films, actually being used in normal conversation, by normal men!

As D Day approached, I could see, when making this journey, the build-up of troops and vehicles in the area and realised that as each day passed our departure became more imminent. Finally, it was such, that I said to my Mum, 'I don't think I will be home much more', and sure enough, on arrival back at Cricket, we were informed that all leave was cancelled from then on.

At this time I was serving as a Sergeant, Royal Marines, and had six landing craft under my command and in my sub-division. We were ordered onto our craft, with our gear (kit), and we moved off. We steamed down the Beaulieu River to Warsash, and moored at a jetty belonging to the then H.M.S… 'Tormentor' a supply depot for the purposes of fuelling or re-fuelling. (Both before and after the War, H.M.S. Tormentor reverted to its original name of "Mercury", a land based 'ship' for training Merchant Navy Officers). We remained there just long enough to be fuelled and just long enough to take on petrol, can fuel for the landing craft engines, enough to take us to France, and begin work. Spare cans of fuel for after 'our trip' were stacked in-board close to the gunwales, as emergency fuel. Here, we picked up a R.N.V.R. Sub Lieutenant, named Rees, who had been attached to our Flotilla, to navigate us to our designated landing beaches.

Then we moved off into the Southampton Water, and at the southern end, we were directed to moor alongside an L.S.T.(Landing Ship Tank), which, with hindsight, I imagined to be moored at or near to Lepe Bay.

We were invited aboard, and bearing in mind that most of us were like myself, only 20 years of age, we were very excited by what lay ahead.

When the news came later in the night, for us to slip our moorings, we did so and saw that some of our flotilla craft had been hauled aboard the L.S.T. before they sailed, but we were not included in that manoeuvre.

We made our slow way down the Solent, and I can remember that it was almost twilight, and it was getting darker as we moved on. The sea was becoming 'rougher' all the time. We arrived somewhere off the Needles when we received orders to turn about, our destination at that time unknown.

However, we ended up at H.M.S. Northney, at Hayling Island, a pre-war holiday camp, and spent the night there. We were still mystified as to the reason, for the 'about turn', and to me, it remained a mystery until the 50th Anniversary D-Day celebrations. I had made contact with another Landing Craft man, and asked him why. He told me that apparently because some of L.C.A.s (Landing Craft Assault), which were smaller than our craft, and who began with us travelling towards France, had almost been swamped, due to the heavy weather. They had been ordered to return, but because we were travelling 'under our own steam', and although we started out early the following morning, we later realised that we were travelling towards the beaches on D-Day itself.

Looking around at the time, there seemed to be millions of boats, mainly small craft, just like ours, all mainly going in the same direction, towards France, in the apparently endless sea.

The trip was somewhat bumpy, because our Landing Craft were unable to ride the waves, up and down. Instead the craft had to go across the peaks of them, striking the on-coming waves as they approached, head on. We were in a flat-bottomed craft which at the time, presented a flat square bottom to the waves as we moved forward. Not exactly a comfortable ride!!

We also noticed the mustering area, which we later found out to have been nick-named, 'Piccadilly Circus', together with Landing craft and other craft trying to sort themselves out, gradually falling in with others, who, like ourselves, seemed to know where they were heading.

We also had the new Compo Ration boxes aboard, and tried the contents, which were a new experience for us. We found that the chocolate part of these rations 'disappeared' quite quickly, due to 'hunger!' and popularity. The biscuit section was probably extremely nutritious but not very tasty, so consequently was not so much sought after. In addition there was also a ready supply of tea available, and I can still see Sub. Lt. Rees wearing his uniform overcoat, hunched over the wheel in the almost open wheelhouse of our craft, peering ahead, with a mug of hot tea in his hand. His body responding to the bumpy ride, lurching mainly forward, sometimes sideways.

One craft I remember seeing, and it was one, which we actually overtook on the way. It was an old Thames Barge, which we were later told was now a Landing Barge Oil, carrying that sort of cargo she was old, and she slowly made her way lumbering forward to France, and there were others like her.

To his credit, although he did not engage in much conversation with us, Sub. Lt. Rees stayed at his appointed post all the time, and navigated us into the Mulberry area, near Arromanches, where the block-ships were at that time being sunk in their planned position, after their seacocks had been opened. This was also the time that the great concrete Mulberry constructions were being put into position. This also necessitated noise, as holes were blown in the bottoms of them. They formed the two lines of outer breakwaters, and were enough to afford shelter from the sea.

As we drew near to the French coast, we could hear, rather that see, that something was going on because the aircraft, and the gunfire of the bombarding ships became noisier and noisier. At the time the Fleet Monitor, (H.M.S.. Erebus we were later told) and the Battleship H.M.S.. Warspite, with other smaller ships were thundering, discharging their shells onto and eventually beyond the beachhead itself. This mainly appeared to come from the sea in front of us, when we were working.

When we arrived at the Beachhead, I beached our craft and found the Beachmaster, to whom I had received orders to report. He allocated to us the job of going just outside the Blockships breakwaters, which at that time formed the entrance to the 'harbour' and to help in unloading coasters stationary in the open sea.

This we did, and we similarly serviced many other similar ships during our time there. Whilst the weather remained 'inclement', this was quite a job.

The running swell caused the landing craft to be raised up on a 'peak' usually just as the load, contained in a scrambling net, was being lowered, and by the time it had reached our deck, the craft had dropped a few feet, only to be raised again, striking the scrambling net. Thus there was something of a hastening to detach all or part of the rope eye of the scrambling net, then signal the winchman on board to raise the attached end, so as to spill the contents on to our deck. Again 'practice' came to our aid as we had met giant hooks previously when we practised on L.CA.'s

We didn't know the contents of the scrambling net until it had been 'up-ended' on to our craft deck. We then set about distributing the load evenly over the deck, and stacking it. We would take about three or four net loads, then shout to tell them up top that we were casting off, and leave the coaster. Of course by that time another landing craft had arrived, and was waiting to tie up loosely in the berth, which we had vacated, ready to take on another load. I remember on more than one occasion, we were loaded with petrol cans, and 78mm. tank shells, and if we could not off-load these supplies, we would dry out on the beach. If it was afternoon or evening, we would make a 'comfortable' area amongst the cargo and sleep there until the tide rose!! On arrival at the beach we were sometimes met by lorries which had been backed into the water, as far as possible, and we would man-handle the loan on to it, by means of a board 'gangway', (which was carried on the lorry) for as much as it would take. This sounds complicated, but it worked better than it sounds.

On one of the first runs into the beach, I saw floating logs and to the ends of each of these logs were fitted,(or tied) shells presumably designed to explode on contact. There were also steel spikes with sharpened ends, driven into the beach, so that at high water they were invisible, which we later realised were probably part of Rommel's defences to the 'Atlantic Wall'.

On another such visit, I saw an L.C.A.., which had been split into two lengthwise, and was resting on the beach in that state, wide open. My thoughts were with the crew and any personnel carried in that craft at that time.

On one such return trip from the harbour towards the beach one of the stationary rhinos (a section of the as yet, not connected floating pontoons,) a large part of what was to become the pontoon roadway on to the port from the beach became detached and swung right across our path. We managed to swerve and avoid it, but as we passed it, it swung round and collided with our craft stern. Afterwards we found to our dismay that the craft would not answer to the helm. (i.e. it could not be steered using the wheel). Later, on a subsequent occasion, we 'dried out' on the beach and found that the rudder blade covering of one of our engines' propellers had been forced under the craft, and jammed the propeller in an 'inoperative' position. Using the two engines, we recovered, and by dint of reversing one engine at the appropriate times, eventually 'steered' our way to the beach where I reported our dilemma to the Beachmaster, who ordered us back into the sea to carry on as best we could until a repair could be made. This was eventually swiftly made by substitution of the rudder, with renewal, and we were back to 'easy' normal work again.

Eventually the weather cleared, and we were able to take advantage of subsequent 'drying out' periods to 'make do and mend', including a warm water shave! All this time the beach was subject to much movement by both personnel and vehicular traffic. When this traffic died down the beach became less of a 'battleground' and we settled down to servicing the approaching ships, and by the same token, the fighting boys of the Army. This was eased one day when we were beached and one of the crew noticed that one of the onboard 'jerry cans' began to swell. I ordered it to be thrown over the side, but one of the more adventurous Marines decided to go overboard just after it. We were beached at the time, and watched. I had previously told him to get away from it, but just as he stood over the can, it exploded and flame shot up to his face. We all went overboard and rendered what First Aid we could, and I reported the accident to the Beachmaster. Eventually, Marine O'Connor was taken to a field hospital and was subsequently returned to us. Now Marine O'Connor was of an 'Albino' colouring and we noticed that even the blond eyebrows had been burned off. When he returned he seemed none the worse for his adventure.

We saw the 1000 bomber raid on Caen, or rather we saw the aircraft flying towards Caen after hearing the drone of their engines.

We saw one bomber turn back with smoke coming from it, make it's way out to sea. After spotting some parachutes, we saw the plane dive into the sea and explode. This sight was almost as frightening as seeing pictures of 'condemned' ships in their death-throes just before sinking, and that is a very sad thought.

After some time, we were allowed into Bayeaux, and I was aware of rather a strange and peculiar feeling, knowing that we were actually walking on streets in a foreign land which most of us had never done before, and which, until a short while previously had been occupied by the Germans!! At Bayeaux we saw butter in large chunks and eggs etc., all the produce of a dairy countryside, but not much else was on sale. I bought some butter but when we tried to eat it on board, it tasted rancid. We also saw cows laying in a field, which were apparently blasted by explosion, and were bloated, their legs straight and rigid.

In all, we were working on the beachhead for about three months, during which time we witnessed the Mulberry being 'born', nurtured, and up and working. From the odd looking rhinos, to the small tower-looking constructions, the whole thing became a thriving, working port, which eventually made our landing craft redundant.

During those three months we had one rest period of one week, aboard a floating stationary ship, which gave us a chance to become clean, bright and upright Royal Marines once again.

Regular food was supplied and the necessary incentive to return to the beachhead and complete the job, for which we had been detailed, was restored.

The day eventually came when we saw an L.S,.D., a Landing Ship Dock, which rejoiced by the name of Princess Iris (or was it Princess Daffodil?) which lay just outside the Harbour entrance, and to which we were told to report. On arrival, the whole of the rear end became submerged into the sea enabling us and other Flotilla of similar craft to sail in. Having made ourselves secure, the dock area dried out by expelling the water and raising itself to the water surface level. It provided us with more or less 'the run of the ship' during our voyage home and it brought us home to Portsmouth!!

J M Cross

Walking from Quarters in Iffley Road, Oxford to the new Bodlean library for duty at 7.00 hrs. a glorious sunny morning, the blue sky alive with planes towing gliders. We had been working up to this for months but this was our first knowledge that the invasion of Europe had begun. We were having a dance that evening but most of the units we had invited were busy with the invasion. We were virtually sent to the street corners, the forces canteens, to rope in anything in uniform. This was the best dance we ever had. We stopped at, I think, 9.00 pm to listen to the King talking to the Nation, then the fun continued. Even the usual formal (stuffy) gold and blue braid let their hair down.

Tibbie Brown, nee. Glass

As a scool boy of 14 years old I well remember standing in our back garden watching those white striped planes and gliders flying overhead. We had heard on the radio that moring that the invasion had started, as schoolchildren of course we were very excited and we all knew that it was a day that it would go down in history. Late on in my teens I joined the RAF and was able to see and fly in some of these planes, and I even remeber seeing one of the old gliders at RAF Lyneham.

Derrick Truman

D-Day, 6th June 1944. My older brother shook me awake to point out of the window at the sky. There was hardly a space to be seen between the heavy bomber aircraft towing gliders as large as themselves. The heavy drone was deafening, and we sat awed at the sight knowing something big was happening. It went on for some time as wave after wave of bombers and gliders passed overhead.

Ed Noone.

The following memories are typed up from extracts written in an old school exercise book found in my father's flat

Albert Gregory, R.A.M.C, attached to D Company, Ox and Bucks, 6th Airborne Division.

He was on the third glider to land on Pegasus Bridge, 6th June 1944..... D-Day

Both Ida and Albert worked at Mark and Moody Printers in Stourbridge, they met when they were both working in the Bindery Dept, Albert was walking through, when his trousers got caught on the edge of a table, and he ripped the backside out of them, Ida, being very thoughtful, painted his backside green with the dye she was using to edge a book to hide his embarrassment, just a few days after this, they started going out together, thus was the start of a wonderful life together.

Albert Gregory and Ida Bowen married on a Sunday, April 28th, 1940, just after World War II started. After just two short weeks Albert was called up for National Service and joined the army.

As a member of the St Johns Ambulance Service during his civilian days, he applied to be a medical orderly. While playing football one day during his training, he was called to the offices and asked if he would like to join a new section of the army being formed (this would later be called the Airborne Division, consisting of paratroopers), because he knew his new wife was short of money, he applied to join this force because it paid an extra 1-shilling a week (probably now worth in the year 2002 as one quarter of a penny).

He recalled his training, how his first parachute jumps were from a basket, hung beneath a barrage balloon and how the sergeant used to help the nervous with a large boot up the backside to help them on their way. Later he did several parachute jumps from the side door of a DC3 Dakota. He always stated in later life that the worst parachute jumps he had done were from the basket because you would fall for what seemed like an age before the parachute would open.

Soon after once again he volunteered for a new force …… glider borne troops ….. this was a complete new way of taking troops to war, but Albert was always a bit of a dare devil and rose to the challenge. In later life he joked that the first few times he flew, he had never landed with the aircraft he had taken off in, but this was all to change with the gliders.

Ida recalled the times he came home on leave during this training. No one in their home town of Stourbridge had seen the red beret before, and with all the badges and insignia on his arms, people used to walk by the side of him and try to read what regiment this strange soldier with the red beret belonged too. She said she couldn’t stand the people walking by her side, so used to follow him about six feet behind. The opposite view was taken by Albert’s father, when on leave, if they went out together, Albert had to wear his uniform, and his father, being so proud, would say to anyone that would listen, “You see this soldier, well that’s my son!”

During one of these weekend furloughs, Albert brought home a fellow Para from Wales who could not get home and back in the time they had for their leave. He wrote to Ida to inform her that they had a guest for the weekend. She then spent all her rations to give them a real good meal for when they arrived. Unfortunately, when they got off the train, Chris Williams and Albert stopped for a pint in the local pub, it was only supposed to be one pint, but once again the people of Stourbridge were fascinated by the two soldiers in their red berets, and one after another bought them drinks, just so they could talk to them. Eventually, two hours late for their meal, they arrived home so drunk that they could not eat the food, Albert, I believe was chasing the peas round the table with his fork, and they were both having a fit of the giggles. Ida was not amused and I believe Chris was not invited back again.

He describes the gliders as having a metal spine and then covered in cloth, this material was then soaked in dope to make the material stretch and become tight to fit over the skeleton of the aircraft.

During this training, his platoon had a very bad glider crash. During take off, the Whitley bomber, which was towing the glider Albert was travelling in, had engine failure and released the glider only a few hundred feet from the ground. The glider pilot was forced to turn, unfortunately towards the local village and finally crashed into the front door of the church. Five people were killed, including the two pilots, and Albert had severe leg injuries. He was taken to hospital for a few weeks, and on his release from hospital, was surprised to find a jeep and driver waiting for him. He thought at first that he was some kind of celebrity, but soon realised that the jeep was taking him back to the airfield, where he was put into the back of a glider on his own and taken up to face his fears.

Little did he know at that time what all the training was for, he realised that he was part of a group of men that were expected to be part of something rather special. In fact, these troops were to spearhead the invasion, some 12 hours before other Allied troops would land on the beaches of Normandy.

On his last visit home, Albert had told Ida that his was going to be involved in something special, but even he didn’t know what it was, just that it was big. He knew that soon he would be shipped out to fight in some far off place, so that his wife would know that he was on his way, he planned to send her a birthday card to inform her that she would not see him for a while. This he did just three days before D Day.

Albert Gregory

Orne River

R.A.M.C attached to Company D, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment, British 6th Airborne Division

We took off and sat in silence for a while, just listening to the roar of the wind and the tow aircraft’s engines.

We were soon over the French coast and all hell started up, the anti aircraft fire exploded in the night sky, we called the shells “Flaming Onions” because of the way they looked and came towards us in a string. I looked around me, and for once, no one was being airsick. I remember being scared stiff and yet excited in anticipation of what lay ahead of us.

Suddenly, the towrope was released by the glider pilot, and we were away on our own, just the rush of the wind and the downward spiral to France and our fate.

In what seemed only a few minutes the words “Brace, Brace, Brace” were shouted and we all linked arms, awaiting the impact of the landing. I can remember the sparks, which seemed to stream down the fuselage and we touched down, screeching and crashing, till suddenly we came to a stop.

We didn’t bother to open the door of the Horsa, we just all seemed to pile out through the gashes in the fuselage, I grabbed a trolley full of mortar bombs and pulled for all my worth, only for one to fall out and smash my toe. Someone else came over to give me a hand and we ran towards the bridge.

It is very hard to explain to anyone the feelings of war, exhilaration, fear, excitement and comradeship towards your fellow troops who you have been with for the past months.

I ran to the edge of the road leading to the bridge filled with a feeling of apprehension of what was going to happen, but I know I must have had a guardian angel watching over me because I was still there with so much death around me. Perhaps one day I will know what that angel was but I thank god I survived to live a happy life. Bullets were flying everywhere, I heard the cry “Medic” and I ran towards a guy lying at the side of the road, as I ran towards him, I looked to my left and found a German solider running the same way, both trying to survive and not knowing why we were doing what we were doing.

In just a couple of minutes I had injured men who had been hurt in the crash landing, I had three men who I herded into a hedgerow to treat their wounds. I was in that ditch for hours because they would not let me cross the bridge until the snipers had been found. It was about 7 or 8 a.m. before I eventually transferred them to the café and relative safety.

I remember a small French girl, ashen faced and scared to hell, I reached into my tunic and gave her my bar of chocolate, but still she did not smile.

I then joined up with about half a dozen other men who were making their way to Ranville to join up with their own companies when the rest of regiment came in on the dropping zones, it had been hours since I saw a familiar face of my own company.

The guys had taken several prisoners at the bridge; one was a young boy of 16, he now keeps a hotel in Hamburg and lets any Airborne stay there for free, I understand he goes back to all the reunions on D Day each year.

I crossed the Orne bridge and passed a Para with six prisoners and later rejoined B Company as we all regrouped at Ranville for the attack on Escoville. I can’t remember our exact approach but I remember the orchard where our mortars were set up and also the farmhouse and the long driveway, I recall digging a trench here and feeling uneasy, I moved to another spot and soon after we were heavily mortar bombed, suffering many casualties. I remember three men from our own mortar squad being severely wounded and I also recall seeing my original trench and found a bomb had landing in it, so what made me move from that position at the time I do not know.

Later we moved to the woods at Chateau St Come, the dead horses and cows were everywhere, bloating up and the awful smell when someone put a bullet in one of them and they burst. It was a smell of death that none of us can describe but will never forget. I recall going on a patrol and running into a bunch of Germans in an armoured truck, and how we ran to get away, I jumped over a low wall, but there was a steep embankment on the other side, I rolled down the bank and finished up in a stagnant pond and stank to high heaven for days afterwards, but thank God we all got away safely.

Now in the twilight of my years, I sometimes sit alone and recall the little things like the time I dug a trench only to find water seeping in, I went out and dragged two parachutes from the trees to line the trench but gave up and chose another spot.

We were shelled, mortared and machine gunned during the day and sometimes bombed at night but the worst were the air burst mortar bombs, which showered shrapnel down on top of us and caused many casualties. I remember the Tiger Tank we had knocked out and how I rolled two bogey wheels and placed them over half my trench for protection, only to find we were moving on that night, so some other soldier moved in as the 51st Highlanders came to relieve us.

I remember the turmoil when D company were cut off and B Company put in an attack to get them out. We had orders to withdraw and as we pulled out up that gulley I remember a German throwing a stick grenade over the hedge, which severely wounded Sgt Stan Bridges in his upper arm. I bandaged and splinted his arm and eventually got him to safety when I joined the other lads in the woods at the Chateau St Come. I remember how we all stepped over a German soldier lying dead across the path leading into the wood. Like many others I will never forget the awful carnage caused when the battleship Warspite opened fire on these woods not knowing the Black Watch of the 51st Highland Division had already cleared it of Germans, also the smell of death that hung over the place because there were bodies everywhere. It was terrible and made one feel sick with the stench. I remember the dug out we used as our command post, the “Moaning Minnie” mortar bombs the constant shelling with air burst shells, which exploded in the air and showered shrapnel on top of us. I remember going on several patrols with Capt Priday and some close encounters when Cpl Pontin took us out on recce and ambush patrols.

I remember how they sent us back about three fields behind the front line for a rest but it was a nightmare because we were bombed, shelled and mortared. I remember one bomb landed a few yards from my trench and the concussion caused the side of my trench to collapse on me. I was half buried and really scared stiff because we couldn’t do anything about it, so we all moved back into the words but as far as I was concerned it was chaos.

We were shelled, mortared and machine gunned during the day and sometimes bombed at night but the worst were the air burst mortar bombs, which showered shrapnel down on top of us and caused many casualties. I remember the Tiger Tank we had knocked out and how I rolled two bogey wheels and placed them over half my trench for protection, only to find we were moving on that night, so some other soldier moved in as the 51st Highlanders came to relieve us.

I remember the turmoil when D company were cut off and B Company put in an attack to get them out. We had orders to withdraw and as we pulled out up that gulley I remember a German throwing a stick grenade over the hedge, which severely wounded Sgt Stan Bridges in his upper arm. I bandaged and splinted his arm and eventually got him to safety when I joined the other lads in the woods at the Chateau St Come. I remember how we all stepped over a German soldier lying dead across the path leading into the wood. Like many others I will never forget the awful carnage caused when the battleship Warspite opened fire on these woods not knowing the Black Watch of the 51st Highland Division had already cleared it of Germans, also the smell of death that hung over the place because there were bodies everywhere. It was terrible and made one feel sick with the stench. I remember the dug out we used as our command post, the “Moaning Minnie” mortar bombs the constant shelling with air burst shells, which exploded in the air and showered shrapnel on top of us. I remember going on several patrols with Capt Priday and some close encounters when Cpl Pontin took us out on recce and ambush patrols.

I remember how they sent us back about three fields behind the front line for a rest but it was a nightmare because we were bombed, shelled and mortared. I remember one bomb landed a few yards from my trench and the concussion caused the side of my trench to collapse on me. I was half buried and really scared stiff because we couldn’t do anything about it, so we all moved back into the words but as far as I was concerned it was chaos.

During these actions I came across some horrible injuries. The worst in my opinion was the one where a piece of shrapnel had hit this man in the corner of his mouth and tore a gash to his ear. The side of his face fell down to his neck and looked an awful mess. I gave him a shot of morphine, then put a roll of lint along his gums, then I pinned his face up with four safety pins, applied a dressing held on with elastoplasts and got him evacuated to the casualty clearing station. Many years later I learned he had survived and was soon on one of the reunions but I never knew his name.

I remember the two tanks in the drive that had been knocked out and were on fire for days. It was here I was wounded in the head by an air burst shell as I ran to help Sgt Bobby Hill who had also been wounded. As I ran toward him, suddenly there was a blinding flash and I fell on top of him, it was he who bandaged me up and got me evacuated back to Bayeaux. A piece of shrapnel had pierced the top of my helmet and blown a big hole in the top of my head.

How I survived all this hell, only God knows.

I regained consciousness in a Dakota DC3 while crossing the channel back to England, I recall a young nurse saying to me that “The wars over for you my lad”! I lost consciousness again, and the next thing I remember is waking up in a military hospital in Oxford, with my wife looking down on me, it was only then that I realised I would be alright.

Ida Gregory

Being a wife of someone in the armed forces was a terrible ordeal, you did not know where they were, you did not know if they were safe, in fact you did not know if they were alive or dead.

One of the worse things to happen during the war years was the arrival of a Post Office telegram boy on his red bicycle in the road or street, for then you knew someone who lived close to you was going to receive some bad news.

I remember the day I heard the news about my husband Albert, I saw the telegram boy turn into King Street, and everyone closed their doors and looked through their net curtains to see which house he would stop at. On this particular day, he knocked on my door.

The telegram read that he had been wounded and was in a military hospital in Oxford, my heart was heavy, but at least he was alive.

The local people gathered to help me, and the next day I caught a train to Oxford in the search for my husband. On arriving in the city, I asked where the hospitals were, only to be informed that there were 17 military hospitals, and so my search began.

Each hospital seemed to be designated a particular injury, so after walking miles I approached the one I didn’t want to go to, Head Injuries.

I asked at the reception if they had a Lance Corporal Albert Gregory, and to my dismay, they said they had.

I approached the ward, not knowing what to find, and was led to a bed surrounded by curtains. There he lay, his head shaved and with wires attached to a machine, his arms strapped to the side of the bed and a 6 inch safety pin from a kilt pushed through his tongue to stop him swallowing it.

For several weeks his was in hospital, then he was transferred to a convalescent home, and at last he came home for a few weeks.

When he joined the army, he was designated as A1, but now he was C3 and would not fight abroad again.

He made a full recovery, but had a six-inch star on the back of his head where the shrapnel had penetrated his helmet.

Le Marchant German POW Camp

After recovering from his injuries, Albert, was transferred to a German POW Camp near Devises. Because of his medical experience, his job was to liase with the German doctors and English and Polish guards at the camp, thus during the day his was locked behind the wire with the POWs.

He found it quite strange, that the camp was separated into two parts, the outer ring of the camp was for the normal German soldier, but in the centre of the camp, there was a special protected part for members of the SS party.

The guards on the look out posts and machine gun towers were Polish, they really hated the Germans for the things they had done after invading Poland, so God forbid anyone who tried to escape.

I had my own office, which I shared with three German doctors and their trustee medical staff; the POWs had large white squares sewn onto their tunics. I could do no wrong in their eyes, as I was the one who said who could travel in the ambulance to take the sick to the local hospital.

I had my own German trustee, his name was Willy Welk, no matter when you asked him for a cup of tea, he would always come back with a brew, even if we had no tea, to this day I do not know where he found the tea, but he did every time.

I recall the day when there was a new influx of German prisoners, only these were coming from the Channel Islands, we found out that they were carrying British Pound notes, so I gave Willy 5 Woodbine cigarettes and sent him outside the perimeter wire, where he sold the cigarettes for one pound, I noticed which German had bought them, and after he had come through the gate, I informed him that the English cigarettes were banned, took them off him and passed them back through the wire to Willy, I made quite a packet in the hour it took to get them all through the gate.

After the new prisoners were in the camp, they were asked to strip and then we sprayed them with DDT power to kill any germs they had on their skin, more interesting to me was that they also carried German night field glasses, German wrist watches and the like, I never took personal items, but what was supplied by the German government was fair game.

These items, including butter and blankets, plus anything else I could scrounge with put into suitcases and posted home to either Ida or my mother and father. The suitcases in wartime were wooden boxes with material stretched over the carcase. These were wonderful, because you filled them up with contraband and nailed them shut, then posted them home from the local railway station. I had to post them home from different stations because the railway staff were getting wise to the tricks going on, and stealing the suitcases.

I recall one day being called with the German doctors to the SS part of the camp where a chap had hung himself from a toilet chain. He had been there for three days and was starting to smell a little, so the SS had asked for him to be cut down, we later found out that he had been murdered (see below)

If we had to go into the SS part of the camp, we had armed guards to protect us. This particular day, as we passed through to the toilet block, an SS officer spat at me, and it hit me on the shoulder, in a flash, one of the German doctors body guards stepped forward and hit him with one punch, he just went down and did not move. After cutting down the dead POW, we were coming back out, and I went forward to see to the POW who had been punched, but was pulled back by the German doctors, and told to “leave him”. Three days later he was brought to the medical centre and we found out he had a broken jaw. I later found out that the doctor’s bodyguard was the heavyweight boxing champion of Germany.

I met some wonderful people at the camp, not all German soldiers were bad people, in fact they wanted to fight a war and be away from their families as much as the rest of us.

A Birthday Surprise

Below is a clipping from The Stourbridge News on May 29, 1997. I was approached by the local newspaper regarding my father after I had asked about the certificate I had found in his belongings, after his death, and it all snowballed from there.

war hero

Below is a photograph which was also in the local paper three years earlier, after an old lady at Stourbridge Age Concern had painted a picture of my father from a black and white photo she had asked him for.

Albert Gregory

I believe that if we do not record for history, the stories of these people they will be lost forever, because now their sons and daughters are getting older, and if we don't put them down on paper, who will.

I feel I am one of the lucky people in this world who did something for their father before his death.

After the loss of my mother, he was very, very down, and eventually had to go into a nursing home because he could not walk very far. To try to buck him up, I telephoned the Airborne Regiment to ask if they would send him a birthday card for his 80th birthday (April 5, 1995), at first the lady who answered the telephone, was quite abrupt, but did ask for his details, rank, number, etc, and then told me that they did not normally do this kind of thing, but she would ask.

Two hours later, I received a telephone call from a Warrant Officer Kelly, asking me more details, i.e. about D Day etc. From then on all hell broke loose, I had telephone calls from national papers, local press, and even local TV. It seemed that the Airborne Regiment, had decided to do something special for my father's birthday, because his was one of the few surviving members of those brave troops.

At first, because the nursing home was situated out in the country, they wanted to parachute a birthday cake to him via The Red Devils parachute team, but in the end, because the national press, etc., could not help with the fuel bill for the Hercules transport, so they decided to send two chopped down Land Rovers and a troop of eight Pathfinder Paras from Aldershot to attack the home in his honour.

On the morning of his 80th birthday, myself and my family went to the nursing home, I felt that I had to tell him he was getting a surprise, but not to tell him what it was (he thought he was getting a kissogram), just in case the shock would kill him.

Picture this:

We sat him in a chair outside the home on the drive, TV cameras, his old pals from Age Concern, the local British Legion and the Normandy Veterans Society, plus some of his old Para chums, and he asks: "You're going to a lot of trouble for a kissogram!"

At that point, two jeeps swept up both sides of the drive, armed to the teeth with rifles and machine guns, stopped abruptly and the troops jumped from the vehicles, lined up, saluted my father and presented him with a cake and a regimental plaque.

To see the tears of joy in his old eyes made me the proudest person in the world.

That night, we all sat around the TV with his friends in the nursing home and watched it all again on Central TV.

That is a day I will take to my grave with me.


So concludes Albert, Ida and his fellow combatants recollections of a time their children and grandchildren now only see in films immortalising war and showing how brave the actors of today are, when in fact we should all praise God that there has been no world wars in our lifetime

We go to the cinema to watch films like the Longest Day, but as we sit there, do we realise what these people really went through, I think not.

When Albert was taken ill, and had to go into a nursing home, I was sorting out some drawers in a dressing table, when I came across an envelope with the words War Department printed on the top. I opened it to read that Albert had been recommended for the Military Medal, when I asked him what he had done; his answer was the following “Oh, just doing something stupid!”

Later I found out the truth, Albert had been recommended for the Military Medal because he had ran out to rescue six men who had been wounded, the last man he carried to safety was an officer who had told him to leave him where he was, as he carried him to back to him own lines, the officer was shot again while over Albert’s shoulder, but unfortunately died several weeks later. Thus he did not receive the medal because the officer could not substantiate the evidence

When Remembrance Day comes around each year, Albert would remind me of one thing:

“Yes son, remember the soldiers that have died, but also remember that the old people of today gave up six years of their life, so that you may sleep safely in your beds at night, I may have fought on a foreign land, but your mother and thousands of other mothers fought harder at home so that we could come back to a land we loved and had to leave.”

God bless them all.

Alan Gregory

A proud son of a brave father and mother

I was in the green sector of Omaha beach. The sea was very rough. When we got there the little hatch opened and the people near the front of the boat were showered by bullets. Then another craft landed next to us and the attention of the bullets turned to the then we got was over so quickly I never knew how lucky I was.

Tom Bradley

LCI 489 which took part in the D-day landings
I served as Pharmacist Mate 1st class for LCI 489. I was the ship's "Doc". The Navy prepared us well for war. As Pharmacist Mate, I received extensive training on wound care, shock treatment, bullet/shrapnel removal, setting fractures, control of bleeding, trauma treatment, stitching, treatment of infectious diseases, dressing and bandaging wounds, chemical warfare first aid, etc.

Onboard, everybody got immunisations. I gave typhus fever vaccine every 6 months, typhoid fever every 12 months, tetanus booster as needed, yellow fever every 24 months and small-pox every 6 months.

I also served as Chemical Warfare Representative, and Lend-Lease Representative. I completed the required communicable disease reports and sanitary reports.

Our commanding officer was H. H. Montgomery, Lieutenant USNR. As I recall, our LCI ship's complement included four officers and between 25-28 enlisted men.

Around May 1944 we brought on two additional medical men in preparation for D-Day. These men were Burton H. Hockel, PhM1/C NR, and Harold Alvin Kadle, Hospital Apprentice 2/C. I set these men up in the sick bay to give IVs and plasma.

Approximately two weeks before the Normandy Invasion, our LCI was quarantined as a precaution.

crew members, LCI 489

My recollection is that our LCI and 5 other LCIs among LSTs, and LCMs pulled up to Omaha Beach just at daybreak on Jun. 6, 1944. Actually, our LCI didn't land up on the beach, which was the goal of LCIs. We hit an obstacle in the water and were not able to get right up on the beach. Chuck Phillips would know the details on that. There was a sandbar and we could not have made it up on the beach anyway.

I was on the bridge/conning tower with Lt. Montgomery, Neikerk and Wilson. Another man was on the bridge, too, but I can't remember who it was. Lt. Montgomery was surveying where he wanted to direct fire. Suddenly all hell broke out. Montgomery yelled, "Get off the bridge" and we abandoned the bridge immediately.

The German bunkers that were supposed to have been blasted out in an air raid weren't. Fire started coming from everywhere. To make things worse, the water was very rough. We carried men from the 1st Division (the Big Red One) to Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

Wood timbers/cross ties and barbed wire were attached to mines. One of the first things I remember seeing just before all hell broke out was a couple of dead men draped over these obstacles in the shallow water. Later I learned that these men were sent in to clear and mark channels for other landing craft and us. The fighting on the beach seemed to be the most horrendous for the first 5-6 hours.

It eased up a little around what I thought seemed like lunchtime, but the shelling continued for two days. You should have seen my helmet. I wish I had saved it for my kids to see. I was told that the Germans wouldn't aim fire directly at men in the Red Cross helmets. A few hours into battle, I took my helmet off because I was certain they were aiming right at that Red Cross. I guess the German's figured for every hospital corpsman they took out, the more overall casualties there would be. Dead corpsmen can't save lives.

During the invasion itself, the sick bay expanded to include the mess hall and the deck. The shipmates on our LCI were lucky. We did not have one single casualty. The mess hall and deck were filled with men from the Big Red One whom our LCI had carried and soldiers who had come in on other landing craft along side us. Travis Wilton Allen (Al), seaman 2/c NR, is the name of the man who secured the lifeline rope that Karl Bischoff mentioned in his story. Al Allen brought wounded men to me all day on the 6th and 7th of June. He never stopped even though he injured his knee. I think he took a surface shot across the knee. He was a good young man. He probably saved more lives than we can count in those two days, literally hundreds and hundreds. I don't know how he maintained the stamina to keep bringing the injured from the beach onto the LCI. I patched these men up the best I could and got the really injured ones transferred to hospital ships.

When Allen couldn't get the injured to me, I went to them on the beach. It was so loud with strafing, shelling, and mortar fire. I'd yell, look out behind you Allen. Allen would yell, hit the deck, Doc. We looked out for each other. It seems a miracle now that we did not lose one crewmember on our LCI on D-day. Sometimes the air was so full of fire that is seems impossible that any of us survived.

By the afternoon of June 7, disabled boats/ships that were beyond repair had been sunk out away from the beach to make a makeshift harbour/blockade. Other less disabled ships had been pulled up alongside the sunken ships. This reduced the waves a bit and made things a little easier.

I remember when we rescued men from the Susan B. Anthony. When the waves would swell, our ship would rise up and the men on the Anthony had to judge it just right to get the timing right for their jump across. I remember one young man who just couldn't make himself jump. He finally tried and had both legs crushed badly. However, he managed to hang onto the Anthony. I climbed up the cargo rope and slung the young man over my shoulders. I brought him onto our LCI and treated him. I had him transferred to a hospital ship. I never caught his name. I have wondered over the years if he made it home safely.

By this time I was 23 years old, in fact, I turned 23 on Jun. 7 1944, the day the Anthony hit a mine. Twenty-three seems young now, but at the time I was one of the senior men on board and these 18 year old fellows seemed terribly young to be fighting. My heart really went out to them.

Around 2 days out from D-Day a group of men from our LCI set out on the beach. I treated men from Omaha and Utah Beach. I believe it was an LST that brought in Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent. I think we were actually on Utah Beach when we met Ernie. We talked to him about what we had seen. We were deactivating German bombs that had not detonated and were checking for any survivors. By this time the fighting had moved inland a couple of miles. But we still got occasional shells.

It was about three days out that I was authorised to give each man 2 ounces of Brandy. It was prescribed to help settle their nerves. That was a common prescription in wartime for shell shock.

James Roland Argo.

James Argo, Pharmacist Mate 1st Class.

Post Note: My Dad, James Argo, wrote this story. He reunited with two of his shipmates, Karl Bischoff and Chuck Phillips in November 2000. At the time of the email, snail mail and telephonic reunion, he was suffering from lung cancer. He died on Dec. 8, 2000.

This seems to have been a final mission for LCI 489 as far as my Dad was concerned. All the old anxieties of war were passed away and my Dad experienced a sense of healing by this reunion/

There is no doubt that he lived in the greatest generation. I salute my Dad and the many other men who fought for our freedom, cleared minefields, steered craft, patched up the wounded, cleaned out bilge pumps, radioed, signalled, gunned and died. Your parts were all significant and it is why we are here and free today.

Lee Rawlinson, Mr. Argo's daughter

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