Everyone’s War –  D-Day

In this issue of Everyone’s War we have first-hand accounts of operations on D-Day, beginning with 77 Assault Squadron on Sword Beach. With bad weather causing a delay, their landing was beset with difficulties from the start. 3 Troop, tasked with gapping, encountered underwater obstructions, heavily mined defences, and continual enemy fire, as told by William ‘Bill’ Carruthers, Ivan ‘Dicky’ Dickinson, and commander of landing craft LCT 1094 Harry Surtees RNVR. Both Bill and Dicky were wounded soon after landing but resolutely continued until ordered off the beach. Harry captained LCT 1094 and his crew safely home despite having been repeatedly shelled.

Hilaire Benbow was only nineteen years old when he served on D-Day in LCA 458 which carried US Rangers for the assault at Pointe du Hoc on Omaha Beach. When his landing craft was disabled, he took cover at the water’s edge on Dog Green Sector, the beach that featured in the opening scene of Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan. Under constant enemy mortar and machine gun fire, he led sixteen other stranded naval personnel down the beach to the shelter of an American landing craft and from there to a ship out at sea. For his bravery, he was awarded a DSC.

London milkman George Humphreys took part in the Normandy landings on board LCT 513 as a telegraphist, landing on Juno Beach as part of the 20th Landing Craft Tank Flotilla. LCT 513 had to carry home an unexpected and unwanted passenger – a live mine jammed on the extension ramp. This misadventure was published in the newspapers and even made the BBC news!

Intelligence Officer Peter Prior served on D-Day with 5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, 8th Beach Group, landing as part of the 3rd Canadian Division on Juno Beach to set up an Intelligence Section at Bernières-sur-Mer. His D-Day recollections are some of the most striking of his military career.

Typhoon pilot James Kyle’s objective was the low-level bombing of a German headquarters at zero hour on D-Day, followed by Ramrod missions and armed reconnaissance over Normandy in the subsequent weeks. From St. Croix (B3) air landing strip on the beachhead, he tells of adrenalin-fuelled action, ‘sweating minutes of fear’, and of landing with dry lips and hands shaking; all of which took its toll.

The little-known role of the D-Day smoke-layers is recounted by Colin Kitching, a veteran of the 1942 Dieppe Raid. He commanded a flotilla of twelve raiding craft refitted to lay defensive smoke screens. These diminutive boats were the smallest craft of the invasion fleet to cross the Channel under their own power.

Airborne signaller Harry Read found himself in deep water when he landed in the flooded marshes near Robehomme. He was at the defence of Le Mesnil. a strategic rallying point for paratroopers, and describes constant enemy counter-attacks and how his survival reaffirmed his faith in God.

Further first-hand accounts of operations on D-Day from the Archive can be read in the book D-Day: By Those Who Were There, written by the Archive’s Life President Peter Liddle OBE.

Against the odds..
Moving on from our cover theme, we have the incredible escape story of Geoffrey Mowat of Malacca 4th Battalion, Singapore, as written in his POW diary. Geoffrey was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned at Changi from where he made a daring escape, spending six weeks on the run in the jungle before succumbing to malaria and, ultimately, a betrayal which led to his recapture.

Another personal story of survival against the odds is that of Chaim Ferster from Sosnowiec, Poland, who survived eight labour and death camps. He and his sister Manya were the only members of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust.
Other articles include a personal account of the Commando operation at Agnone, Sicily, in what proved to be the most testing operation that 3 Commando had ever faced, and two merchant seamen who were aboard the Opawa, sunk by U-106, describe how they endured a testing lifeboat voyage which only fifteen men survived.

Julian Horrocks with his recent publication on Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, and Graham Bebbington with a short history of HMS Fledgling, are our contributors for this issue. James Goulty’s ‘Soldier’ series will continue in the next issue with ‘The Japanese Soldier.’

If you would like to submit an article for consideration, please contact the editor.

Amanda Herbert-Davies